Celluloid Life: Mutants and Microphones

So far this week I have seen two very different films – ah the spice of life. One was a dramatic comic book actioner filled to bursting with explosions, nifty superpowers and a helluvalotta stuff that Boys Will LoveTM. The other was equally explosive, but studded with glitter, pop songs and pre-pubescents. Intrigued? Read on…

If you’ve been, um, anywhere in the past few months, you’ll know that Wolverine (or, sigh, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is about to hit screens. Most people were disappointed by Brett Ratner’s X3 (I wasn’t, mostly), so I’m guessing hopes are high both sides of the media fence for this essential reboot, which, yes, jumps back in time to reveal the genesis of our knife-knuckled friend. Early trailers were decidedly squiffy and, sadly, have turned out to be pretty representative of the film’s quality.

Hugh Jackman has sculpted himself into a mountain. He’s large and in charge (well, not really, but it sounded good), and screams at the camera a lot. Still, he’s an enigmatic lead for director Gavin Hood’s trip down memory lane. Hood’s ambition is evident from the outset, with the opening credits providing a riveting whirlwind through Wolverine’s formative years. Sadly, the exploration of Wolvie’s backstory almost entirely fails to break new ground – we’ve seen or heard discussed most of the events in previous filmic X outings. Sweeping New Zealand vistas add a great sense of scale, but some of the special effects are decidedly dodgy. That said, a helicopter face-off and a showy final smackdown ensure that retinas never go bored. But the script and pacing feel a little too patchy, too restless – like the man-mountain (mantain?) himself. Thank God, then, for Taylor Kitsch as Gambit. Adding a snarky verve in just the right places, he lifts the film from its doldrums just enough to keep it from getting lost in melodrama. Let’s hope they’ve got something better up their sleeve for Magneto. C+

On the flipside, we have Sounds Like Teen Spirit. Documentary-phobes lower your gauntlets, no matter what your usual filmic flavour of choice this has all the markings of an absolute classic. Want some buzz words? Hmm… Moving, hilarious, surprising, inspiring, moving… Yeah, it’s really moving. Following a group of 10-15-year-olds from around Europe as they get ready for the Junior Eurovision 2007 (seriously), Teen Spirit isn’t just about music and kids saying funny things (what they like?!), it’s also a powerful insight into the lives of young Europeans. Take Mariam, a 13-year-old living in a Soviet block that is falling to pieces in Gori, Georgia. She wants to compete, but her mother can’t afford to go with her and is forced to watch her daughter sing her heart out on a fuzzy, barely-watchable TV. Then there’s Cypriot Giorgos, who is 10 going on 30, bullied for wanting to sing, yet shocking in his powers of perception. On the eve of the contest, Giorgos mourns the inevitable anti-climax of the event – he wishes he could freeze time before the winner is announced so that he can experience the build up of excitement over and over. It’s particularly embarrassing that most of the kids speak dang near perfect English, while we squint stupidly at the subtitles whenever anybody yacks in anything else.

With Teen Spirit, director Jamie Johnson has crafted an anti-documentary that works at odds to expectations – kids that he trails don’t make it into the contest, surprises lurch from every corner of the screen, and in the end, the winner isn’t quite who you might expect. Stuffed with quirky characters (one Ukrainian performer is a rubber-faced cross between Cruella DeVille and a demented cheerleader), shocking honesty (14-year-old Marina talks about her parents’ divorce in heartbreaking detail) and, naturally, giggles at the high camp extravaganza. A truly rewarding experience. A-